There are also the tabloids to contend with, as if the minds of to million inquiring fans weren't enough. But this is a group of young men who claim to engage in relatively clean fun. "We don't hide anything," says Bass. "We'll go out and have a glass of wine at dinner – you know, whoa. We do have a responsibility to try to be morally correct. I'm not going to say we're perfect, but we don't do cocaine or go, like, 'Hey, let's shoot up.' But if we want to go to a club until five in the morning, we don't care who knows about it, because in the end we answer to our families. My mom still has control over me, and she knows it. She'll ground me on the road if she reads about me getting into trouble."
"You don't want to say or do too much," says Fatone, who is the boy most likely to be spotted by the gossips while clubbin' it up all night. "You know, it's like breaking the fans' hearts if there's something out there that they don't know about and might get upset about."
At present, Kirkpatrick is the only member whose relationship with his girlfriend (now in its second year) survived 'N Sync's liftoff. Bass' nine-month stint dating actress Danielle Fishel, better known as Boy Meets World's Topanga, didn't stand a chance.
"It was so impossible," he sighs. "We never saw each other because of our schedules, but we tried to make it last. It's hard when you're both in the spot light. She came home with me to Mis sissippi, and we went Christmas shopping – we got so mobbed, we stayed maybe ten minutes." Bass figures he will be able to date seriously again in about ten years' time.
Timberlake is another story – he has been linked repeatedly to Britney Spears. Is it true, Justin? "Britney's a good friend of mine; I've known her since I was twelve," he says. Yeah, but is it true? "I don't like to comment on my personal life anymore. Everything gets blown out of proportion. I've been in the tabloids, and I don't enjoy it." Well, who would? But is it true? "If I do decide to have a personal relationship with someone, I think it's best to keep it that – personal."
Trends change, fans grow, and the pop stars of yesterday end up on VH1's Where Are They Now? But the members of 'N Sync have been pursuing further preventive measures, mainly acting. Bass has already made his debut, on the Christian family drama 7th Heaven, where he also logged his first screen kiss. "It was easier than I thought it would be, considering there's, like, fifty people staring at you," he says. "Except that you can't use your tongue. We had to do the scene, like, ten times, so you slip it in there sometimes out of habit. That really was the hardest part."
Two movies are in the works for the boys: One is a big-screen rendition of Sid and Marty Kroft's Bugaloos, and the other is a comedy in development by Tom Hanks' company, Playtone. 'N Sync are not worried about becom ing next year's Vanilla Ice. "Luckily, people like what we're doing," Chasez says. "The thing that makes us special is, we don't care about what's hot and what's not – a lot of groups do. We will prove ourselves by being consistent – like Madonna. The only way she disproved the ridicule she got when she came out was to be consistent."
"I think the next couple of years will separate the boys from the men," Timberlake says, then chuckles at his pun. "What worries me is the oversaturation of the market."
"This group has a work ethic like I've never seen," says its manager, Johnny Wright, who has worked with New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys. "Usually at their level, they start saying, 'You're working me to death. I need more time to spend my money, more time to spend with my girl.' It's not like that with them. And as long as they want to work, I'm with them."
Former New Kid Joey Mclntyre agrees. "All of the new groups aren't doing anything different than we were," he says. "But 'N Sync is my favorite. I look in their eyes and I see that they're at the point where they've got the world by the balls and they're having a good time. It's all about hanging onto that and seeing if you can. I actually think they can transcend the whole boy-band thing."
If 'N Sync disappear tomorrow, there is one thing that won't change: the glass-shattering cries of female teen fan-dom. "Is there some gene or something that makes the girls go crazy?" Bass wonders. "I asked Britney about it one day, and she said her girl fans go much more crazy than the guys. I ask fans all the time, 'Why do you just go berserk?' It's overwhelming, you know?"
Not as much as it is for them. "The hysteria is a particular way for girls to express their pleasure," says George Washington University professor Gayle Wald, author of Just a Girl?. "They are responding to boys who are offering themselves as sexually desirable and visually pleasurable objects of consumption. It produces a girlish masculinity that allows girl fans to negotiate their own gender identification."
The reality for the objects of this awakening, however, is nothing less than mortally worrisome. "It's hard to meet somebody, especially dating-wise," Bass says. "You see screaming fans every day; you start to look at everyone you meet as a fan. The first thing that goes through your mind is, 'Is she a freak?' "
"We have girls that drive twelve, thirteen hours to follow us," Fatone says. "Those are die-hards. They'll pay, like, $700 for a ticket if they have to. One of our guards once asked them why they did it, and they said, 'Everyone needs a hobby.' " Fatone says his biggest fans tend to be the mothers. "I don't know, maybe it's the facial-hair thing. It's not that I'm mature – I'm probably the most immature. But I'd rather have that. Can't be dating no twelve-year-old. That's jailbait."
"These girls are just bawling," says Lynn Timberlake. "They freak out, and we kinda laugh at it. It's strange sometimes – it's a little stranger when it's the boys screaming. But you know, those kind of boys buy a lot of records. They appreciate good music – what can I say?"
Todd Dukes has seen it all. The mountainous man worked security for New Kids back in the day and for Backstreet for the last three years; he now heads up the 'N Sync guards. "It can be nuts," he says. "U.S. fans are buck wild, but it's worse in Europe and worse than that in the Spanish-speaking countries. Over there, they know what hotel we're in before I do." Dukes organizes the fans for autograph signings, but often that's not enough: "The parents are generally a problem. They won't take no for an answer, and an autograph is never enough. They want them to come to dinner." Dukes has heard all types of sob stories at the door to aftershow meet-and-greets. "If the story is good – like if the kid's sick – I'll get them in, but usually there's already too many people inside. No one offers us sexual favors, which is good, because they're kind of young. But I did have a girl offer me her mother for a set of tickets." He chuckles. "Mom was cute, but I can't do that."
The phenomena of these not-exactly-macho guys engaging in anti-macho activities and being rewarded with the adoration of a zillion nubile women pre dictably wins them plenty of enemies among the dudes. "There is an anxiety among the detractors on the Internet," says Wald, "in regard to whether these boy bands are masculine enough – are they 'queer,' both in the sense of being gay and also in being off in their masculinity. Their lyrics are not overtly sexual like some of the R&B singers' are, and the fact that they don't play instruments is an issue as well. They're really not bands per se, they're boys doing things with their hands. The musical denigration of the boy groups intersects with a sense that what girls like is dismissible. It devalues girls' pleasure."
All this lofty academic talk isn't lost on Timberlake. "It might be better if it wasn't such a spectacle," he says quiet ly about the überglitzy, Mission Impossible-esque stage show that the group will soon undertake. "Maybe people would respect it more."
"To me," says Chasez when the respect issue comes up, "good music is good music, and somebody will buy it. When our fans go off to college, I don't think they'll have our posters on the wall, but that's not to say they won't like our music. We'll be older, too, and talking about different things. Grunge was mad in six years ago, but Pearl Jam is still making and selling records." He shifts restlessly and reflects for a second before offering up the pop star's eternal prayer: "You know, the good groups stick around, and the other stuff fades away."
This story is from the March 30th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.
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